Global Software Development — Assembling Your Team

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAContinuing the discussion on Establishing Distributed Teams.

Now that you’ve decided to build out a new team, presumably far away, there are several decisions that you’ll want to make. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Decide on your staffing model. Direct employees or contract.
  • Pick a location. No matter where you decide to go, there will a different mix of factors. I’ll explore that in a bit.
  • lots of other details (where the devil can also reside).

Your decisions will have a profound impact on your success . So lets start with structural model (contract vs. own and operate) and location.

One of the first decisions you may need to make is the general governance of the team. There are places for both general types of organization, and the direction you choose to go should be based on what you believe fits best for your organization. For example, take a look at the following:

Relationship Pros Cons
  • More control, influence over team activities. May have positive legal consequence related to Intellectual property.
  • If you plan on long term growth in the new location, you can gain a foothold and develop a positive reputation that will pay dividends in subsequent recruiting activities.
  • If you’re just getting started in a new location, there may be significant legal and administrative issues with establishing a presence in a new country.
  • If you already have an effective presence, these barriers shouldn’t be profound
  •  You can deal with organizations who already have the infrastructure (facilities, HR, finance, IT, etc.) that will be needed to  get the team moving quickly.
  • Assuming that you pick a good vendor, you can leverage their insights into the local economy, culture, and practices that best serve how to work remotely with their teams.
  •  You will cede some control. While each relationship is different, the contractor/vendor relationship is one in which your vendor will be beholden not only to you, but to other clients. Be certain that they are incented to act in your best interests.
  • Along with that loss of control, there may be extreme cases in which your whole team can be purchased (I’ve seen this one), which can lead to a pretty abrupt cessation of work.

As you can see, there are different models that you may want to consider.

In very general terms, if you have tighter resources and don’t wish to go “all-in” to setting up shop in another country, take a good look at an offshore contracting partner. There are several high quality organizations. There may also be differences in their operating models. Some may invite you to hand pick all staff and treat the assigned team as your own, while others may prefer to align themselves more to a project model in which they take the lion’s share of personnel management. Each of those also will come with their pros and cons. Regardless, you will also be best served by checking around and getting references from people who you know well.

If, on the other hand, your organization has the resources and longer term commitment to setup your own shop, then the employee organization may be a better fit. I’ve seen both models work, and for that matter, both models struggle. Pick a direction that you and your organization find most comfortable.

The other interesting dimension to consider is the actual location of the offshore (or near shore) team. There are a bunch of things to consider here as well, which include:

  • Language. Its generally a good idea to work with people with whom you and your team are able to communicate with in the same language. (so, call me Mr. Obvious) For my past teams, we’d had a stipulation that all team members (regardless of location) be fluent in English, and if not, training would be provided.
  • Prevailing laws. Be careful about things like intellectual property, customs, etc. You could find yourself with surprises. Its a good idea to consult with people who understand the nuances of dealing with the local customs.
  • Cultural fit. The world is a fascinating place and people tend to have different ways of interacting. Some cultures may fit well with one another, others not so much. I’d suggest doing some amount of introspection into your organization’s culture and style and be certain that those you’re working with are a good fit.
  • Political climate. While this can change, its good to be aware of what you may face as major disruptions could have an impact.
  • Time zones. If you’re going a long distance (for example, west coast of US to India), be prepared for folks on both sides to need to be flexible about their work (and sleep) schedules.
  • Talent Supply. Some countries have a greater supply of talent than others. This will impact the quality of work and speed at which you are able to bring people on-board.
  • Local economics. Don’t let yourself get fooled into a “great deal” unless it passes a sniff test. If you find that you’re being offered rates significantly beneath the local range, you’re likely to either get subpar talent, or face severe retention/inflationary issues. It generally takes a fair amount of investment to get people fully up to speed, so be careful with this.

Your goal with all of this should be to select the fit that best suits your organization. There isn’t a single answer that will fit everyone’s needs, so plan on spending some time giving these matters some thought.

Also, note that these topics hit the top surface of the decision process. Each situation will come with its own nuances and interactions. For example, some countries will present a good environment to setup your own presence, while others may be better accessed through an outside partner.

Keep an eye on the highlights, spend your time wisely, and consider investing in help from people who understand the details of running organizations in the places you choose (or are choosing).  Your organization will be the beneficiary of the decisions you make, good or bad (or just middling).


About Mike Rodbell

I'm a technology leader, engaged in developing software for the telecom, online commerce, and business process/analysis markets. All of the teams I've worked with have had a great deal in common. They need to be good at what they do, listen, share, and collaborate towards a shared set of goals. This blog is dedicated to those activities. I hope you enjoy reading it.
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1 Response to Global Software Development — Assembling Your Team

  1. Pingback: Global Software Development Processes/Approaches | Mike Rodbell's Blog

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